Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Storm

Come clouds and begin your joyful chant
Sweep in over hills and pour out your tearful rant
Eclipse the sun and turn day into night
So I might dream of the sun and of restored sight

* written in class, to the sound of thunder and rain.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chongju, or 청 주

Today was the day I had been waiting for, the day I received my assignment from Fulbright and found out where I would be living and teaching for the next year. The city is called Chongju, a suburban city of 600,000 in the middle of South Korea. I don't have much info yet, but I do have this picture of the school, which is supposed to be pretty nice. So hooray for change and for pretty schools!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Of Struggle, Progress, and Beauty

How time flies. There are mornings that I wake up, and for a second I am unsure as to where I am, how I got here, and I am certain that this thing was nothing more than some wild fabrication in my mind. But only for a second. After that, the synapses begin firing slowly, and I begin to understand the complexly beautiful situation I find myself in here. It is a situation wrought with difficulty, predicated on the idea that I can be stretched, that I will experience pain, and that I will endure. I have come with this backwards idea in mind; that life is nothing without struggle, and instead of run away from it, it is best to meet it head on. To deny it victory but still allow it to change me, as I think it would anyone.

I will tell you now, I am terrified of failure. I always have been, if you want to know the truth. And I find it remarkable that when I look at my life over the past few years, it has been a dance of sorts, an awkward dance around things that are really difficult, things that I know I am not good at, that I don’t understand. And I don’t mean in an academic way; anyone can learn so mething new if you give him enough time. I mean in a way that fundamentally resists categorical struggle, a struggle that involves all my elements, that pushes them towards something greater through something inherently hard. It seems strange that, for some reason, people don’t change, people don’t grow up unless they are forced to, unless they are brought to their knees and told, “you don’t have what it takes. Do something about it.” It seems ironic that the only way one can really be pushed into being a better person, a more complete human being is through the very struggle that we try so hard to avoid. But I will say it again, I am afraid of failure. No dark beast conjures in my mind such grave things as this. But here I am, running headlong into a mist, into a fog that clouds my vision and through which I am perpetually tripping and falling, but ever pulling myself up to continue. I like the way Fredrick Douglass put it: “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” So succinct, so poetic, so true.

I was thinking yesterday about beauty for beauty’s sake. An author I love once said that beauty seems to be the least selfish emotion that we can experience. That beauty is just beauty. But it is so easy to think of beauty as something that we see on vacation, that exists outside of what we experience daily. But that is a lie, let me tell you, the invitation is always open. It is so easy to see here, in both the physical landscape and in the people. My window opens to a beautiful view, the mountains stretch out into the distance, shrouded in mist with the sun penetrating just enough to create a glow as if God himself was lightly touching the hills, the trees, just for the pleasure of my wandering eyes. How lovely, I am often lost in it. I also think of yesterday, while I was at Tae Kwon Do, we were training with several kids, and we would spar across from them. I was sparring across from this beautiful little Korean girl, probably not more than 7 or 8 years old (but a black belt) and in between the Master’s instructions, without saying a word she would walk over to me and gently take my hand or my arm and adjust it so that I was doing the move properly. She would move my arm, step back, and I would smile, and she would smile back. And in that moment there was an understanding that crosses cultures, that crosses languages, and it was profound. My mind also travels to a couple of days ago, when a few Koreans came to visit a few of us Americans in our dorm rooms, and apparently word had gotten around that I played the guitar. The first question out of a few of their mouths was, “can you show me guitar?” At first I said, “no lets do it later, some other time” but as they insisted and brought me a guitar, I realized I had no choice. So I sat in a chair in the hallway of our dorm, picked up the guitar, and played two of my favorite songs. As I was playing, the crowd of Koreans grew bigger until we were completely blocking the hallway. Looking to each of them, smiling and clapping, was something special I can’t describe. We had this wonderful moment together, and when it was over I realized how thankful for gifts like that I am, because they make things so much better, so much richer, they make abstract things like beauty so much more tangible. A smile from a little girl, a beautiful sunset, music played from the heart and shared with friends, these are all things that have affected me lately and kept me sane, and for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pictures of Foreign Lands

Hey I thought I would find a place to post all the pictures I am taking here. If you want to check them out you can here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

cultural confusion - my first two weeks in skorea

(The picture to the left is me after several shot glasses of soju were knocked into glasses of beer during a night with the KEY Club (kangwon english yard club, a bunch of korean college students who want to study english) beer got all over me.)

Wow, how to sum up the last week and a half…there is so much that has happened, so much I have seen, experienced, done; and all the while I have maintained a healthy countenance composed of fear, excitement, and anticipation.

I suppose I will stick to a few of the more memorable events that have occurred thus far. I find myself with very little time for relaxation, in fact, orientation is keeping me so busy that I am often not back to my room for more than 10 min all day. But the time spent going going going is good. I am learning tons about the Korean culture, what makes them what they are, and how to interact as a foreigner in that culture. There are so many subtle things, so many elements that go into successfully navigating these uncharted waters. I am also spending a lot of time with the Korean language. 4 hours a day to be exact. The classes are fun for the most part, and, surprisingly, they are taught by Korean teachers who speak almost no English. It is amazing to me how effective they can be in communicating to us and teaching us while speaking entirely in a language we do not understand. In one of the more spirited interactions I have had with my teacher (she is young, maybe late 20s, and has a lot of sarcastic attitude) I took it upon myself to explain to her the meaning of the word sarcasm, so I said (in my most sarcastic voice) “I really like this class.” It was obvious she understood as she nodded thoughtfully and imitated me “I really like learning,” “yes” I said, “that’s it.” Then she said, in an incredibly sarcastic voice, “you are a really handsome guy.” The whole class erupted into laughter and I sat back, smiled, and decided to take it like a man.

I have been taking Tae Kwon Do the last three days, and I have really enjoyed it. I seriously feel like I am the Karate Kid, and am obsessed with somehow defeating the Dojo Master to claim my position of dominance. Our class meets for an hour every weekday night, and we kick, and punch, and kick, and punch, and run some laps, and stretch, and kick, and punch, and so on. It is really fun thus far, and, although I am super sore, I am determined to prove that lanky white guys can be TKD masters. Our Dojo Master is a great guy, I should say, and just watching him is a workout. He is a short Korean guy, without an ounce of fat on his body, who can do the most acrobatic things. Today while we were stretching he tried to get us to do the splits and other such moves that men of my stature are not supposed to try. Then he called someone from our group up front to show us how to kick and punch properly. He would kick full speed at the unlucky group member and stop just when he touched the back of his shirt. It was incredible to watch how close he was punching. Anyway, my point is, everyone was completely wowed by this guy and his crazy machine-like efficiency with which he moved. Oh, and on the first day he brought his daughter, maybe seven or eight, who is an accomplished black-belt, to demonstrate an entire routine for us. She was amazing and you could see the pride in his eyes as he watched his daughter perform.

Ok, a few other things. My new favorite desert is called something like “poppinsue” which is half ground ice, half fruit and black beans. That’s right, beans. An unlikely combination, but a tasty one nonetheless. We go out to eat fairly regularly, as everything is fairly cheap, and have enjoyed quite a few staple Korean dishes, almost always involving Kimchi. I went to my first Nolebang the other night, which was a time to remember. Norebang is a place in which you can rent out a small room with your friends and sing karaoke until the break of dawn…which is almost what we did. My favorite moment consisted of my rendition of a Tenacious D song and a lot of screaming Koreans. It was wild. Also I should note that since being here and hanging out almost every night with Korean people, I have noticed how open and honest they always are with everyone. Sometimes this is bad, like if they think you are overweight, but most of the time it is a doorway to awesome conversation and thought. They are so sincere, and will not hesitate to tell you that seeing you has made them very happy. This frank style of talk is refreshing, but is also somewhat intimidating because any judgment they make about you is likely to be verbalized.

Next week is the first week that I will be teaching at Camp Fulbright, an English emersion camp that kids will come to for two weeks to learn English. I have my first lesson planned, its about surfing and the environment, two things that I hope to blend together seamlessly and effectively. I am a bit nervous, but that is how these things go. I find that I am constantly trying to do the things I can’t do, or the things that scare me, so that I may become a better person, a more whole person. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the update, many more will follow soon!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Not in Kansas Anymore

I left yesterday on a plane bound for Asia. South Korea to be exact. I have not been to bed since, and I am losing all sense of time as it exists to me. I left on Saturday at 7:30, and I arrived in Seoul at 5am on Monday, the changing time can be a tricky thing. Anyway, the folks who run this thing are trying to "help us" adjust to the time change by keeping us up for another couple of hours, it feels like a forced march on a sweaty, humid, summers day. The land is beautiful, green hills sprawling for as far as the eye can see, and until mid-afternoon fog swept in and around those hills like a ghost. I have had two meals thus far, lunch and dinner, and they both have included a variation of the famous "kimchi" dish. It is a cabbage like stuff soaked in chili-paste that makes it unbearably hot. And the great thing about Korean meals is that they don't believe in drinking water during their meals, they prefer to drink after, so the whole time my mouth is on fire from bite after bite of flaming kimchi, I have to sit and dream of the end of the meal when I can soak my mouth in ice-cold water. But besides that small issue, the food has been incredible. I have eaten more tentacles in the last two meals than I have had in a long time, squid and octopus being my favorite...and I enjoyed a great dish of beef, crab, mushrooms and noodles. So far so good. I also had the chance to walk around Chuncheon a bit and scope out the town. Well, needless to say its a bit different than Phoenix. Here are a few pictures to illustrate:

Ok, more to come real soon, I promise. But exhaustion is setting in and I need to rest. Sleep is coming soon, in the next few hours, and after that only more adventure awaits.